Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs p. II

QB Philip Rivers (Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The Chargers and Chiefs have authored some exciting games over the past few years. Expect that trend to continue on Sunday as they collide with first place in the AFC West on the line. Our Scout.com team experts, Michael Lombardo and Nick Athan, break down the big game, talking about Philip Rivers' struggles in Arrowhead, San Diego's defensive deficiencies and much more.

To read the first installment of this Q&A series, click here.

Nick Athan: The Chargers opened against a pair of NFL patsies. But last weekend they might have faced the best team in the NFC in the Atlanta Falcons. Is San Diego ready to start playing better teams and can they beat them consistently?

Michael Lombardo: The Chargers will keep getting better as the season progresses. Free-agent additions Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Atari Bigby are still getting acclimated to their new team. Rookies Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes will take on heavier loads once they are ready. And Ryan Mathews and Jared Gaither are getting healthier with each passing week.

It remains to be seen how high San Diego's ceiling can be if all these moving parts come together. But there are still plenty of patsies to be had while the Chargers work through the kinks ... the only other "elite" team on the docket is the Baltimore Ravens, who come to San Diego in Week 12.

NA: I've never been a fan of Norv Turner. He's always seemed to me best suited for NFL duties as an offensive coordinator. With that said, how has he handled both roles to this point of the season?


Norv Turner
ML: Technically, San Diego's offensive coordinator is Hal Hunter, who also coaches the offensive line. But Turner calls the plays and is responsible for the effectiveness of San Diego's offense, which has ranked in the top 11 each of the last four years.

As a coordinator, Turner is a chess master. He does an outstanding job of creating mismatches for his playmakers and calling plays early in games to set up the opposing defense for later in the contest. As a head coach, the knock on Turner is he is not a leader of men. While he is definitely a players' coach, he is not a fiery and inspirational leader like the man who preceded him. Also, the Chargers have a bad tendency to mail in a few games under Turner, such as last week's game versus Atlanta, last season's debacle in Detroit and 2010's bungle against the Bengals.

NA: Against the Falcons, the Chargers' defense was unable to make plays in the middle of the field. That meant a lot of passes to the tight ends/backs and gaping holes past the line of scrimmage. Are the coaches concerned that this defense isn't up to speed with what they want the players to do or is the talent level low?

ML: The defense, under the leadership of first-year coordinator John Pagano, is still a work in progress. But his emphasis is on simplifying schemes and letting players react rather than think, so it's not like his players are lost in a sea of complex schemes.

The defensive front seven has the talent to be a team strength, but there are a few holes there. Takeo Spikes is in his fifteenth season and isn't as fast as he used to be; as a result, he has become a liability in pass coverage. Also, the Chargers operate without a traditional 3-4 nose tackle, which makes life much more difficult for the inside linebackers.

NA: For the most part, Philip Rivers has played well against the Chiefs. But he's had troubles at Arrowhead in recent years. Do you think that some quarterbacks just don't play well in certain stadiums? If yes, why has Rivers struggled against the Chiefs?

ML: The Chargers have found some odd ways to lose games in Kansas City. Two years ago, San Diego slept on the Chiefs' team speed and got burnt via a 56-yard Jamaal Charles run and a 94-yard Dexter McCluster punt return. Last season, San Diego had the game all but won until Rivers mishandled a simple snap and fumbled the ball away while trying to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.

This is Rivers' first game back in Kansas City since that fumble, a play that was the primary reason the Chargers did not win the AFC West last season. He will be highly motivated to play at a high level and help his teammates get a bad taste out of their mouths. But Kansas City is never an easy place to play -- not just for Rivers -- so the objective is easier said than done.

NA: There were so many accolades for Ryan Matthews. But he's yet to really make his mark in the NFL. In Kansas City, we've had many first-round disappointments. Is Matthews one of them for the Chargers?

ML: Mathews is not a first-round bust. He played in the Pro Bowl last season and was enjoying an outstanding offseason before breaking his clavicle in the first game of the preseason. That being said, he lacks the complete skill-set to be a dominant player. He is a superb runner with big-play ability, but he struggles in pass protection; he is slowed by too many nagging injuries; and he puts the ball on the ground far too often.

It is difficult to find a running back who excels in all of those areas, but San Diego fans are spoiled in that regard after watching LaDainian Tomlinson tear through opponents for nine years.

NA: Who wins this game and why?

ML: I am convinced the Chargers will play much better after last week's lopsided loss. However, I don't think it will be good enough. The Chiefs, who lead the league in total offense, get enough big plays on that side of the ball and force a couple turnovers on defense. The Chargers will keep it close, but I have Kansas City winning 24-20.

Given how close I expect this game to be, it is noteworthy that San Diego's kicker, Nate Kaeding, will miss the game with a groin injury. Kaeding is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. His replacement, Nick Novak, handled kicking duties last season and performed well, but there is a reason the Chargers went with Kaeding over Novak coming out of the preseason.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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